One preseason game is too early to judge, but the Tennessee Titans now seem well stocked at the running back position.
So well stocked that the questions become how many to do they keep on the 53-man roster and how do they divide the carries up between the running backs.
At the very least, first-round pick Chris Johnson has forced his way quickly into the conversation regarding the No. 1 running back spot that solely belonged to LenDale White last season.
Johnson’s 66-yard romp to the end zone in Saturday’s 34-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams created quite a buzz among Titans fans, and validated the theory that Johnson can be more than just a “change of pace” back for LenDale White.
“I probably should clarify things right now as far as the starting running back position is concerned,” Fisher said, trying to snuff out any talk of a running back controversy. “We’re going to use a number of running backs, and the starter, as far as I’m concerned, will be the guy that plays the first play in the game, not because one has earned the privilege to start over another. It’ll be based on what we decide to do as an offensive staff to start the game.”
White started and ran well behind the first line, getting 33 yards on six carries, all on the first offensive series, before yielding to Johnson.
Fisher said there would be ample playing time for both running backs, depending upon the situation.
“They’re going to play, and obviously, we’re going to have two players, and as it looks right now, it’s going to be LenDale and it’s going to be Chris [Johnson], and we’re going to interchange them throughout the game and back them up with the other guys,” Fisher said.
Even who those backups are might have become a bit cloudier after Saturday’s game, as Quinton Ganther rushed for 115 yards on eight carries in the second half, including two touchdowns. Could that allow Ganther to push for a roster spot or perhaps even push third-stringer Chris Henry, who finished with 38 yards on nine rushes.
“Q is here, and he’s stayed here because he’s got that kind of potential and that type of run skills,” Fisher said. “His special teams production is improving. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team. He knows what to do. He’s flexible. Last year, if you recall, he played some fullback for us. He’s a good teammate, and he’s fun to watch.”
Ganther knows he is in a tough fight, despite his strong effort.
“This is a great all-around team from start to finish,” Ganther said. “We don’t have any weak links on this team, so it’s going to be hard to make a 53-man roster from what we have in this locker room.”
Fisher wouldn’t commit to who would start or how the carries would be divvied up Friday night against the Oakland Raiders, saying only that he would like to get an earlier look at Johnson and Henry sometime during the preseason.
INJURIES: Cornerback Nick Harper’s concussion cleared up during the game Saturday night and that he was fine Sunday, but will likely be held out of practice for a couple of days as a precaution.
“It would make sense if we watched him for a couple of days before we turn him back ot full contact. So I think that’s going to be our approach,” Fisher said.
Linebacker Kurt Campbell did not play Saturday because of a rib injury, but should return this week, according to Fisher.
Others expected to return this week include receivers Justin McCareins (hamstring) and Roydell Williams (ankle), defensive tackle Tony Brown (shoulder) and punter Josh Miller (groin). Kicker Rob Bironas remains out with a groin injury, and Cary Williams is still several days from returning from a knee problem.
The Titans had no significant injuries from the win over the Rams.
DISAPPOINTING: With McCareins and Roydell Williams out, the Titans had to turn to their young wide receivers for more snaps in the game, and the results were checkered with some drops and mistakes.
Biren Ealy failed to get both feet in bounds on a sideline catch, and Paul Williams not only had a dropped pass, but also an offensive pass interference penalty.
“We had two or three opportunities,” Fisher said. “We had the two drops and we had the play on the sideline where Biren should have gotten his feet down. That’s part of the process. They’re learning a lot.”
DRIVING CARR: Chris Carr got the first crack at the kickoff and punt return duties against St. Louis and did well on both. Carr had a 20-yard punt return and averaged 22.7 on kickoff returns.
But the Titans will still take a look at other options at the position in preseason, including Chris Johnson on kickoffs.
“We’re going to continue to evaluate different guys. Chris just happened to be first in the first rotation,” Fisher said. “I’m completely comfortable with him. He’s very calm. He’s a good decision-maker. He understands returns, and we brought him here to do that. We’ll probably give Chris Johnson a chance to return some kickoffs this week and see how instinctive he is at it.”